How To Write A Great Out Of Office Email

This article was originally published by Forbes.

Rawpixel.com for unsplash.jpg

A few weeks ago, I received an automated out of office (OOO) email reply that was so good I immediately wanted to work with the sender. A colleague had e-introduced me to Kristine Sloan, the CEO of StartingBloc, and Sloan’s automated reply was my first communication with her.

StartingBloc is a personal and professional leadership development organization committed to convene, grow and support passionate, socially minded leaders. After getting Sloan’s reply and spending some time on StartingBloc’s website, it was clear her OOO beautifully modeled the organization’s values.

Sloan’s message reminded me that OOO emails can do so much more than let the recipient know your reply may be delayed. Here’s what she sent:

It's officially Institute season! Before we kick off the year, our team is spending a weekend focusing on nourishment, community building, and exploration at the On Being Gathering.

From Feb 19-26, we will be in LA, facilitating our LA'18 Institute to welcome in 90 incoming StartingBloc Fellows.

After the Institute, we will be taking time to recover and reconnect with our friends and family, so that we can be fresh and ready to return to work on March 5.

Please expect a slow email response during this time and until March 12 as we catch up.

When I ask her what went into writing this email, Sloan notes that her OOO message reaches “a wide community of individuals who may be at varying levels of engagement with the organization,” so she wants to give additional context about how time is being spent and why.

Sloan’s goals were threefold. First, to demonstrate both how her team executes on StartingBloc’s mission and leads major programs like their 5-day institute. Second, she wanted to acknowledge the ways they invest in their own professional development, in this instance, with the On Being Gathering. Finally, she demonstrated the need to rest after big events and a commitment to restoration and quality time with family and friends after periods of heavy work travel.

One of the things I struggle with personally is a perception that an OOO means I'm not a hard worker or a good leader because I'm not tied to my desk. Sloan’s OOO flew in the face of that by reclaiming a multifaceted vision of leadership.

As StartingBloc alum Krystal Beachum described it, “The Institute is focused on cultivating leadership that is more courageous, inclusive, and connected.” To me, part of that means creating an expectation that leaders are whole people who are grounded in other parts of their lives outside of work.

Sloan’s OOO demonstrates a commitment to the holistic type of leadership to which I aspire. That’s a key element of what makes Sloan’s OOO resonate so deeply for me – that it was aligned with the vision of leadership the organization espouses.

Next time I write an OOO, instead of just giving the dates by which people can expect a reply, here are three ways I’ll try to use Sloan’s model to up my game.

  1. Demonstrate credibility by sharing what I’m doing if it’s professional development or aligns in some way with my work. I lead sessions on avoiding burnout and work-life integration, so sharing the times I’m unplugged models the behavior I encourage in my clients.

  2. Show my personality by being conversational in tone and allowing the reader to feel closer to my business and my work as a result. I often struggle with how “I’m supposed to” present myself as a business owner, when in fact, all the research I’ve read on personal branding indicates that integrating my personality is likely to make me more successful.

  3. Provide value by including a useful article or how-to guide. Sloan included the agenda for the LA Institute as an attachment, giving great additional context for those who were interested in attending a future institute. I could include an article I’ve written in the past on burnout or professional development.

Regardless of its structure, I’ll strive to share a bit more about what I’m doing and why – allowing clients, colleagues, and friends insight into how I approach my work and engage with the world outside of it.